Did you know that your dog can start a House Fire?

Everyone is familiar with many of the common causes of house fires…smoking in bed, unattended candles, or even kitchen mishaps. But, are you aware of another leading cause of fires in the home? This one has four legs, a tail and might be your best friend!

By: Dr. Jim Humphries, Veterinary News Network

Like many dogs, Lucy had a passion for chocolate. She doesn’t know it’s not good for her – the Labrador/Basset mix only knows that it tastes yummy and she will do anything to get some! So, when owner Kay was at work one day, she had no idea that Lucy’s passion and energy would lead to a near disaster!

Kay left some chocolate cake up on the counter and Lucy was determined to make it her own. In doing so, she ignited the burner on the stove. The heat melted the plastic cover of the cake pan, filling the home with light smoke.

The US Fire Administration (usfa.dhs.gov) states more than 500,000 structural fires occur annually, taking more than 3,000 lives, including about 100 firefighters. Top causes of home fires include open flames and accidents in the kitchen. What’s even more interesting is that more than 900 fires each year can be attributed to pets!
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Dogs and cats are very inquisitive creatures by nature and, like Lucy, will often persist in attempts to reach some sort of favored food item. These two attributes can lead to problems when combined with unattended candles, or open heat sources, like kerosene lanterns. Pets can easily knock these items over or ignite nearby material, causing a fire to spread.

All across North America, headlines show stories similar to Lucy’s. From dogs locking owners out of the house while fish is frying to many displaced candles, our pets are implicated in fires more often than people realize. Sadly, it is estimated that more than 500,000 pets are affected by fire each year and many of these will lose their lives.

Although a few pets wake the family and end up as heroes in these stories, many become fearful and try to hide. Others are left home alone and no one is there to rescue them, despite shrieking smoke alarms. For our cats, the excessive noise may even provoke a flight response to a hiding place where they feel safe and may not easily be found.

Thankfully, you can reduce the risk of a fire and injury or death of your pet by taking a few common sense precautions.

First, never leave any open flame unattended. If you are leaving the house for any reason, extinguish all candles and turn off open flame space heaters and/or stoves.

Next, consider keeping your pet confined when you are gone. A dog in a cage is unlikely to create a situation like Lucy’s near disaster. Walk through your home with an eye towards “pet proofing” and preventing accidental fires.

Invest in a home monitoring system that can alert the fire department, even when you aren’t home. Thankfully, in Lucy’s case, her owners had added monitoring protection to their alarm system. Firefighters were dispatched and arrived at the home quickly, only to find the heavy smoke indicative of a large fire. The captain of the engine called for two more fire trucks, fearing that the fire was beyond what his team could handle.

Upon entry to the home, Lucy was immediately rescued and the firefighters were able to extinguish the fire without the use of hoses. The fire was contained to the kitchen because of the quick response of fire fighters, due in part to the monitoring system.

Experts at the National Volunteer Fire Council (nvfc.org) also recommend the use of window clings that can help alert rescuers to the presence of pets in the home. Some people will even go as far as to place their pet’s cage within site of the front door to make rescue even easier.

Each year on July 15th, the American Kennel Club (akc.org) along with the National Volunteer Fire Council and ADT Security Services work to raise awareness to help prevent needless pet suffering from house fires. Check with your veterinarian and/or local fire department to find out how to obtain the window clings or visit www.adt.com to get a free one.

Thankfully, in Lucy’s case, damage was minimal and Lucy is just fine. But, many pets aren’t so lucky, suffering from smoke inhalation, burns or much worse. Learn to keep your pets safe by following the above guidelines.

Fire Safety for your Dog

Each year in the United States, thousands of people lose their lives to fire. Tens of thousands are injured and the financial costs can reach into the billions of dollars. Almost forgotten in these tragedies are the hundreds of thousands of family pets who suffer death or injury as well.
Fire is a very scary thing! We use controlled fires to heat our water, cook our meals and power our cities, but for most people, fire is a wild, ravaging beast. And, despite educational programs that start in pre-school, every year more than three thousand people die in house fires. Sadly, those who survive a house fire often lose cherished four-legged family members to the smoke and flames.

According to the US Fire Administration’s website (www.usfa.dhs.gov), more than 1.7 million uncontrolled fires occur annually in the US. The Fire Administration does not keep tally, but other groups have estimated that more than 500,000 pets are killed by house fires each year. Why are we so good at saving human lives, but our pets seem to perish?

One potential answer is the presence of smoke alarms in our homes. For more than 30 years, laws have required the presence of these life-saving devices in any home or apartment. In fact, the Public/Private Fire Safety Council has called for an elimination of residential fire deaths by the year 2020 and smoke alarms figure prominently in their plan. But the high pitched alarm that saves so many human lives is not helpful for saving our pets.
Pet Alert - 2 Decal Window Clings

We all realize that it’s time to evacuate when the alarm sounds, but our pets don’t know that. Worse yet, the unknown sound could scare a pet into hiding, increasing our own risk for harm as we search for the missing kitty or pup.

And, the sad fact is that many pets will die in house fires because they are unable to get out of the home. This often happens when the family is away. Rescue personnel are frequently unaware of pets needing help.

The heroic efforts of firefighters may save some pets from the flames, but damage from smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation can overwhelm many. Life-saving equipment, such as oxygen masks, is usually designed for people meaning some animals may die en-route to the veterinarian.

Fortunately, many diverse groups are working to improve the survival chances of pets caught in fires. Many concerned groups, from alarm monitoring companies, like ADT Security, to local veterinarians and humane organizations are looking to save the half a million pets lost each year

As with many tragedies, preventing the occurrence is the best first step. Pet owners are urged to “pet proof” their home and look for potential fire hazards. Always extinguish open flames before leaving your home and consider keeping younger puppies and kittens confined to prevent them from accidentally starting a fire.

Firefighters are trained to look for window alert signs and make attempts to save pets. These “window clings” are often available from the American Kennel Club or visit ADT’s website (www.adt.com) to obtain a free one. Beyond using the signs, you should always update them as new pets arrive in your family!

If you return home to a burning building, you should not attempt to enter, trying save your pets! This is difficult but you need to let the professionals do their job and rescue your animals.

As mentioned, working smoke alarms are helpful to the humans, but if you aren’t there to hear the alarm, your pets could be trapped inside. According to Bob Tucker, PR Director of ADT Security, pet owners should consider monitored smoke detection services as an extra precaution. By alerting the fire department more quickly, these services increase the chances that your pets will get out safely.

NEW! American Red Cross Deluxe First Aid Kit for Pets

Finally, due to the efforts of local veterinarians and animal volunteers, many rescue services across the nation now have access to “animal-appropriate” oxygen masks. These devices help deliver life-saving oxygen more effectively and will increase the chance of your pet’s survival. Other veterinarians teach courses on effective animal CPR techniques to first responders.

Saving pets from the horrors of fire will be easier thanks to dedicated fire fighting professionals, alarm companies, veterinarians and humane organizations all working together. To keep up to date on all pet related news, be sure to visit www.MyVNN.com or www.PetDocsOnCall.com for the latest and most trustworthy pet health information.

Debra Garrison, DVM

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